EQI launches map of water quality ratings, seeks volunteers

The Environmental Quality Institute announced its new interactive map, detailing water quality in rivers, streams and lakes around WNC. The nonprofit also seeks volunteers for both its chemical water testing program and biology sampling program.

Last February, Duke Energy’s coal ash spill into North Carolina’s Dan River stirred up statewide concerns about water and air pollution, cultivating conversations about the states’s water quality.

On Thursday, a little more than a year after the disastrous spill in central N.C., the Environmental Quality Institute in Asheville announces the launch of its interactive online map, displaying the quality of Western North Carolina’s rivers, streams and lakes.

After 25 years of chemical testing and 10 years of biological testing, the map serves as a reliable indicator of stream quality data in and around the cities, towns and neighborhoods of WNC, while increasing awareness for residents living in areas with below average or poor quality water sources.

With the help of Resource Data, EQI was able to gather the data from both the organization’s chemical and biological test results to display them on one searchable, user-friendly map. “The map includes information about the streams that are sampled as well as their water quality ratings,” reads a press release from EQI. After arriving at maps.eqilab.org, “type a stream name in the search bar or zoom in on the map to see where it falls on the scale of ‘poor’ to ‘excellent.'”

And whereas the N.C. Division of Water Resources only monitors streams every five years, EQI writes that its staff members and volunteers are “pleased to be able to fill the need for alternative, reliable sources of long-term water quality data.”

Last year, the organization received the help of 61 dedicated volunteers, testing the stream once per month for chemicals and twice per year for the quality and quantity of its living beings.

“Every month, for 25 years, dedicated volunteers of the Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) program collect chemical stream and lake water samples for laboratory analyses by EQI,” the release continues. “Scientific interpretation is then provided to local county governments, municipalities and watershed advocacy groups. There are approximately 160 VWIN sites in nine WNC counties.”

EQI began testing chemical stream quality in February 1990, when the organization was still a part of UNC Asheville. Since then, a lot has changed — including its separation from the university and securing its status as a nonprofit environmental laboratory. With all these changes, one thing has stayed the same: “EQI is still dedicated to providing objective scientific analyses to help the public understand complex environmental issues.”

In the fall of 2010, one year after EQI and UNCA split, the environmental nonprofit began work on its Stream Monitoring Information Exchange (SMIE) project, monitoring biological stream data collected by volunteers. EQI’s work with SMIE “complements the chemical data collected by the VWIN program,” giving an accurate reading of the balance of chemical fluctuations and the possible impact those fluctuations have on biological environments.

“Every spring and fall for the past 10 years, SMIE volunteers venture out to WNC streams to sample for aquatic insects,” says the release, sent by Gracia O’Neill, coordinator of EQI’s SMIE project. “The type and variety of insects found are an indication of stream health. Sample locations (38 in five WNC counties) are selected in collaboration with regional partners, who use the data to implement watershed management plans and justify restoration projects.”

And though temperatures today are in the single digits, spring is coming soon — marking the first biological stream sampling of the year. EQI needs volunteers for both its VWIN and SMIE programs, with the next SMIE training workshop held on Saturday, March 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Asheville.

To sign up for the workshop and volunteer for the program, helping to keep WNC conscious of our environmental impact, contact staff@eqilab.org or 333-0392.

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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